BALTIMORE—John Means made his first appearance on a major league mound since April 13th, 2022 on Tuesday night, and while he didn’t get a win, he did complete five innings.
Means allowed three runs on four hits, striking out one without walking a batter in throwing 75 pitches in his return from Tommy John surgery in the Orioles’ 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals before an announced crowd of 15,526 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth remained at four, and they remained three games ahead of Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Rays lost to Minnesota, 3-2.
After getting the first two outs of the first inning, Paul Goldschmidt hit his 24th home run against Means (0-1).
“I had a lot more nerves out there in the first inning than I usually do,” Means said. “Felt like the debut again. Once I got out there and started pitching again, it felt natural … I tried to take it like any other start and stay in the moment and not worry about anything outside.”
Willson Contreras and Tyler O’Neill led off the second with singles, and Nolan Gorman grounded to first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, who flipped it to Means, who arrived too late at first.
Gorman was safe on the fielder’s choice but left the game with right hamstring tightness. Jordan Walker’s sacrifice fly scored Contreras, and the Orioles were down, 2-0.
Richie Palacios, who replaced Gorman, homered with two outs in the fourth, and St. Louis led, 3-0.
“It was good, good enough, maybe,” Means said. “I thought the changeup was good. I thought the fastball was OK. I just had no breaking ball. I’ll try to work on that in the coming days, but other than that, felt healthy.”
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who had lost 10 straight and is retiring after this season, had been stuck on 198 career wins since June 17th. Wainwright (4-11) struggled through five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out three. With the help of four scoreless innings by his bullpen, he finally notched win No. 199.
The Orioles (91-53) scored two runs in the fifth on Anthony Santander’s long single to right and O’Hearn’s infield out, which scored Gunnar Henderson.
Austin Hays doubled to send O’Hearn to third with two outs, and Wainwright struck out Adam Frazier, and the Orioles trailed, 3-2, after five.
Palacios homered against Jorge López, who had retired his first four batters, in the seventh. Lars Nootbaar added an RBI single to put St. Louis (64-81) ahead, 5-2.
Ryan Helsley recorded his ninth save with a spotless ninth, the only time the Orioles were retired in order.
Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t want to extend Means into a sixth inning with Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado due to lead off the inning.
“It’s great to see him pitch the way he did,” Hyde said. “Every game right now is important. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best night offensively, had traffic all night but couldn’t push runs across, unfortunately, but it was nice to see him out there.”
James McCann had faced Means as an opponent a few times but hadn’t never caught him.
“I think the big thing that surprised me was how quick of a tempo he had,” McCann said. “I don’t remember that as a hitter … I don’t remember that tempo, but I like it. It keeps our defense ready, gets us back in the dugout quick.”
The Orioles were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base. McCann hit into two double plays.
“We’ve been really good as a team with runners in scoring position,” McCann said. “Tonight just wasn’t our night. You find a way to flush it and move on and don’t let it be a hangover until tomorrow.”
While the Orioles badly needed the game, it was important for Means to return, and he has perhaps two or three starts remaining in the regular season.
“I don’t really believe in moral victories, to be honest with you. I wanted to get the win today, but I just didn’t quite pitch well enough,” Means said. “It was a good feeling, but I wanted to give my team a chance to win. I felt like I made a few too many mistakes, left some balls over the plate. It’s still good to feel healthy afterwards.”
Means needs to pitch well in his remaining starts to cement a place in the Orioles’ postseason plans.
“It would be unbelievable,” Means said. “But I just want to take it day-by-day at this point and not think too far ahead and be the best pitcher I can possibly be.”
Notes: Reliever Joey Krehbiel was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Means on the 28-man roster. … Former Orioles minor leaguer Drew Rom (0-2, 7.79) will face Kyle Gibson (14-8, 5.12) on Wednesday night at 6:35. Kyle Bradish, Jack Flaherty, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer are scheduled to start for the Orioles in the four-game Tampa Bay series, which begins on Thursday night.
Minor league update: Justin Armbruester (2-4) allowed three runs on two hits, walking five, as Triple-A Norfolk lost to Memphis, 3-2. Tyler Wells pitched a perfect ninth.
Leftfielder John Rhodes drove in three runs and hit his 17th home run, and first baseman TT Bowens hit his seventh home run as Double-A Bowie lost to Harrisburg, 5-4.